The arrival of reason
The revolution started in the early 15th century. This was the time when books became available to the hoi polloi. In Europe, the Catholic Church was being criticized and questioned by intellectuals. The Bible became accessible for the common masses to read. Many reformers, such as Menocchio from Italy, formed their own interpretation of the Christian faith that directly contradicted the official doctrine of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church couldn’t tolerate this free flow of ideas. As a reaction, it killed thousands of heretics(including Menocchio) in the inquisition. From 1558, an index of Prohibited books was maintained by the Church
This marked the beginning of the Renaissance, which sought to create a modern civilization by reclaiming and re-interpreting ancient texts.
The Renaissance was followed by the Age of Enlightenment or the Age of Reason. The enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire, Spinoza and Hume were openly critical of the Christian Faith. Unlike the Renaissance, the enlightenment ushered in new forms of living and politics. The ideas of democracy, individual liberty, reason, science and progress were the result of this movement.
The legacy of the enlightenment is the world that we inhabit currently, which is, by all accounts far better than it ever was(Enlightenment Now, Pinker).
The antinomies of reason
Immanuel Kant was one of the earliest philosophers to discard objective truths. He thought that reason had its limits. He sought to demonstrate this in his 1781 book Critique of Pure Reason. He called these antinomies, or, contradictions which necessarily follow from an objective worldview. The four antinomies posed questions about the existence of God, the immortality of soul, the existence of free will and the beginning of the universe. For Kant, both the sides had reasonable argument. The corollary of which meant that the world is essentially subjective.
The existentialist Soren Kierkegaard went a step further. He argued that it was necessary to crucify reason and leap into faith. Friedrich Nietzsche understood the dilemma between reason and faith better than anybody else in the 18th century. Yet, Nietzsche, too was critical of human reason, which he thought was “aimless, fleeting, shadowy and capricious”. Nietzsche is, arguably, the philosopher admired by every postmodernist. The reason being that Nietzsche thought truth was a human construct and therefore, the consequences of a statement matters more than the veracity of it.
The postmodernist movement was formed in the 1950s primarily by four philosophers i.e. Jacques Derrida, Michael Foucault, Richard Rorty and Jean-Francois Lyotard. All four of them saw world through the lens of a poet. The pragmatic postmodernist Richard Rorty saw himself as the “auxiliary to the poet” instead of a physicist(Contingence,Irony and Solidarity). A scientist forms his worldview according to the best available evidence. He/she abandons a theory if its proven to be wrong. The poet, on the other hand, wants to create a world which makes him feel things he wants to feel. Perhaps, the postmodern literary theorist Stanley Fish summarized it best when he said “Deconstruction relieves me of the obligation to be right and demands only that I be interesting”(Is there a text in this class?).
So, if objective truths didn’t matter, what was it really that formed the basis of the postmodernist view of the world? How, in other words, will we make difference between what to believe and what not to believe? The answer came through Michael Foucault. For him, truth was dependent on power. There is battle for truth going on in this world. The battle is not won by those who have the absolute truth but by those who hold the “regime of truth”(Paul Rabinow, The Foucault Reader). In other words, every society has its own regime of truth decided by those in power. The task of professors, then, is not to encourage their students to question, debate and discuss ideas or to find the methodology of truth. As Frank Lentricchia says “The task of professors is to exercise their power for the purpose of social change”(Stephen Hicks, Explaining postmodernism).
The invasion into College Campuses and the contradictions
Marxism and postmodernism have formed an alliance. An unlikely alliance. Marxism, in its essence, makes predictions. It was primarily presented as a social theory which concerned facts. In other words, the early Marxists thought of themselves as social scientists observing the decay of human society into capitalist hellhole. However, every experiment to usher in the communist utopia failed. The prediction that the population of the working class will increase was also proven to be wrong. On the contrary, the population of the rich and the middle class increased while the population of the poor decreased. The jury was out:-Marxism as a theory in social science failed.
Many Marxists recognized this. Among them were Foucault and Derrida. Both of them were sympathetic to the Communist party. Foucault, was a member of the French Communist Party for a brief period. Derrida, for his part, thought that his work was based on the “spirit of Marxism”. The alliance between postmodernism and Marxism was made to save the latter from the dungeons of insignificance. (Note:-Many modern Marxists like Richard Wolff and Slavoj Zizek have formed a different approach to Marxism. I have no objection with their interpretation of Marxism).
Postmodernism gained power in the academia in the early 2013. Specific departments like gender studies, fat studies, Queer studies and African American studies etc. were formed in the spirit of postmodern neo-Marxism. The modern postmodernists seek to silence every individual they see as members of the oppressor group. For them, the world is black and white. The Truth is decided by the group who hold the “regimes of power” i.e. White Cis- gendered Men. Everyone else is a victim. If you are a white man holding an opinion that doesn’t align with the postmodern worldview, then your opinions do not count. Only the opinions of the oppressed group i.e. Blacks, Muslims, members of the LGBTQ community and Hispanics matter.
After 2013, there were violent protests against speakers and intellectuals with contrarian opinions. A militant, violent, far-left group called the Antifa was formed to execute this. In February 2017, Antifa members invaded the University of California Campus to protest against gay conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos. They smashed windows and pepper sprayed individuals who had come to attend the event(one of the victims was Syrian Muslim). This was only the practical application of the postmodernist theory taken to its extreme.
In order to prove how irrational and unscientific the postmodern studies are, three academicians sent more than 20 papers in a span of a year to well known postmodern journals in 2017–8. To no one’s surprise, 7 of those papers were accepted and one of them was even awarded. The thesis of one of those papers was that men should be trained like dogs in order to prevent rape culture, another paper was an excerpt of Hitler’s Mein Kampf which replaced the word “Jew” with “white male or whiteness”. A paper accepted by the feminist journal Hypatia suggested that “white males in college shouldn’t be allowed to speak in class (or have their emails answered by the instructor), and, for good measure, be asked to sit in the floor in chains so they can ‘experience reparations.” Here’s what one of the reviewers said about this paper “The paper is well written, accessible and clear, and engages in important scholarship in relevant ways. Given the emphasis on positionality, the argument clearly takes power structures into consideration and emphasizes the voice of marginalized groups”.(Academic Grievance Studies and the corruption of scholarship, Lindsay, Boghossian and Pluckrose)
The Intellectual Dark Web:- An antidote to Chaos
In early 2017, a group of intellectuals started having conversations online about the hysteria on the far left. They started engaging in philosophical debates on the validity of religion and the meaning of life. The striking thing is that these long form discussion that often spanned up to 3 hours were watched by over a million people. The members of the IDW include the Historian of Science and founder of The Skeptics Society Dr. Michael Shermer, clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson, neuroscientist Sam Harris, evolutionary biologist Brett Weinstein, Evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, talk show host Dave Rubin, neo conservative Atheist Douglas Murray, Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz etc. The members of this group have little in common save the willingness to engage in a respectful debate. They are united only by their opposition to identity politics, postmodernism and their support of free speech. The IDW is filling up a necessary void.
The postmodernists have already invaded the college campuses. Their rhetoric resembles the rhetoric of the Soviet Union and the Nazis. They are against freedom and individuality. They seek to create a society where the oppressor becomes the oppressed and the oppressed become the oppressors. Their intention is to transfer power from one group to another. It is necessary for every individual who loves freedom to stand up against them. A necessary element of free society is freedom of speech, respect for the value of the individual, and the importance of science and reason. Postmodernism seeks to eradicate all of it. The Philosopher John Gray thinks “we live in the dim ruins of enlightenment”. We must re-awaken the enlightenment ideas in order to create a just and free society.